English is generally recognized as the default language for global communications and conducting business online, but this trend is having an inverse effect on indigenous languages as many are being used less frequently. Case in point, of the 2,680 indigenous languages still spoken today, more than a third are in danger of disappearing.
But these languages are being offered a lifeline in a surprising form: technology. Technology giants and localized companies alike are finding new ways to raise awareness of indigenous languages and the cultures behind them.
One such organization is Kupu, which is a picture-taking app that relies on Google’s image-recognition software to show Kiwis the Māori words for various objects. Developed in conjunction with Google’s Sydney office, a New Zealand telecom provider and a local digital agency, the goal is to increase Kiwis’ vocabulary of Māori words and make the language more integral to daily life. As the director of the digital agency told Fast Company, “Right now, there might be 100 Māori words in common usage for every Kiwi…Our goal for Kupu is that it’s popularizing a selection of words from the Māori language so that 100 words is 1,000 words in a couple years.”
Part of this effort involves taking to social media, which the team believes will be integral to raising awareness of the Māori language among younger generations of Kiwis. According to Fast Company, one idea includes integrating Kupu into social media sharing through stickers in Instagram Stories or Snapchat and making it easier to learn pronunciations through the addition of sounds to the app. For more on Kupu, which is the 2019 Fast Company Innovation by Design winner in the learning category, check out the full article here.
Google Earth is behind another project to raise awareness of indigenous languages: an audio-driven tour that features recordings from more than 50 indigenous language speakers from around the world. The tool also offers interesting insights into the cultures of these people. For example, some languages don’t have words for “good morning” or “hello” because native speakers live in such small communities that everyone knows each other.
As technology is used to preserve indigenous languages and cultures, it follows there will be some hurdles in the form of privacy, security, and creating language-specific alphabets and keyboards. A recent Slate piece delves into these and other considerations in more detail and explores some industry efforts to combat these challenges.
Technology is often unfairly viewed as a negative force of change when it comes to keeping old customs, so it’s refreshing to read about Kupu, the Google Earth project, and other initiatives aimed at raising awareness of indigenous languages. For more examples, take a look at this Fast Company article.